Commentary

How San Francisco can get its gov 2.0 groove back

San Francisco

There’s been a great deal of discussion lately around the topic of government innovation, especially here in San Francisco, with the appointment of a new chief innovation officer, a new “civic accelerator,” a new venture with a consortium of Bay Area technology companies and a new technology and innovation task force led by SF Mayor Ed Lee.

All signs point to a bright gov 2.0 future for SF but, before we get too excited, let’s look back so we can learn how to best overcome the past two years of innovation inertia.

These critiques and ideas aren’t meant to minimize the great open government work that’s been accomplished by key former and current officials. Good people inside SF’s government are doing the best they can with the resources and mandate they have, which much of the time appears to be limited.

Despite having one of the nation’s first open source procurement policies, initiated by former mayor Gavin Newsom in 2009, you’d be hard-pressed to find a line of code that’s not proprietary. One SF official once told me he almost lost his job advocating for the city’s use of open source software.

The city’s apps showcase was created using the open source platform WordPress, as was the open collaboration initiative website PolicySF, now both relics of the Newsom years. The latter has been abandoned completely and the former, apart from a site redesign, has been tucked away into oblivion. Newsom’s mayoral website, sfmayor.org, was also developed in WordPress, however, Lee’s site at the same domain appears to now be powered by .asp.

Despite having one of the nation’s first open data directives, SF has yet to establish an aggressive mandate to make city data more public. In fact, the directive is no longer even accessible. SF’s open data portal, DataSF, had recent dataset additions in December, however, has been lackluster in its growth or general promotion of its offerings.

Since the launch of DataSF, the same applications have been touted as examples of open data inspiring entrepreneurial innovation. Those same apps are still the sole reference points for journalists, even as recent as this week.

One of the city’s most prominent open data applications, EcoFinder, is no longer available for download on iTunes. The app launched to much fanfare and featured in major news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Today, it is non-existent.

One unnamed civic startup tried collaborating with city officials in 2011, requesting access to specific departmental data, only to be told it didn’t have the capacity to do so. After seeing a demo of the startup’s app, the department managed to find the resources to mimic its functionality and launched an app of its own. The department has yet to make the data accessible and essentially monopolized a market when it could have simply fostered entrepreneurial innovation and saved taxpayer dollars.

When it comes to fostering civic entrepreneurship, the true shining star of SF’s open data efforts is Routesy, developed by Steven Peterson and sells for $4.99 on iTunes with a 4+ rating. To the city’s credit, it released the transit data, but not without a fight, and then just got out of the way. Routesy wasn’t developed with the help of a civic accelerator or hackathon. It was developed by an entrepreneur who leveraged public data to create an application which he now sells through a private sector platform and is forced to maintain a sustainable commercial offering by meeting the demands of the market and building on its success.

That’s civic innovation.

Ed Lee can change all of this, and he doesn’t need a task force to do it.

Here are a few ideas.

Build the best mayoral website in the world

The best way to show the rest of government you’re serious about making SF the next “City 2.0” is to practice what you preach. Build the best mayoral website in the world and, to prove you’re agile and truly grok the lean startup principles, launch it within the next month and leverage the civic surplus of the city’s world-class developer and designer community to help you do it (see New York City’s Reinvent NYC.gov hackathon).

Use ‘Built in SF’ technology

The SF Bay Area is home to the world’s most innovative technology companies, including Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and WordPress, to name just a few. Leverage these technologies and promote your use of it. As mentioned before, build the city’s web infrastructure on WordPress, host monthly tweetups and live YouTube question and answer sessions, document your days with Instagram. The opportunities to use these tools to better communicate with the city’s residents and promote the ‘Built in SF’ technologies are endless. NYC Mayor Bloomberg is a pro at this.

Go back to the (data) fundamentals

What’s old is new again, and that applies particularly to public data. Open data advocates applauded the city’s launch of DataSF, but little has been done or championed since. As proven by the Routesy example above, the easiest approach to sparking innovation is to release the data and get out of the way. Solicit feedback from the private sector on what data it would like access to, mandate agencies evaluate and release data, only procure software that has the functionality to push data outward and require every agency to prominently link directly to DataSF.

Leverage the civic surplus

Bypass procurement hurdles and limited development resources and leverage SF’s world-class designer and developer community to help build the fundamental technology infrastructure, such as agency websites and applications, especially for projects such as Open311 implementation. Host monthly “HackSF” codeathons at City Hall to build off specific requirements, developed by agencies or in collaboration with volunteer developers, and create a consistent sense of civic community.

Open source the infrastructure

Open source is a fundamental component of open government. Start by re-launching your website using open source software, preferably WordPress given the company’s affiliation with SF, and challenging (or mandating) other departments do the same, recognizing them with a monthly award or acknowledgement ceremony.

Give citizens a dashboard

Former Newsom advisor Brian Purchia recently recommended SF adopt the federal government’s IT Dashboard to help the city save money on technology projects and provide better insight into what its working on. Go beyond IT. Provide visualizations into all of SF’s public expenditures. It’ll keep you honest and make citizens happy.

These are the low-hanging fruits to true civic innovation and can be done over the course of a few months. An agile government and its leaders can implement and empower others to execute now, especially in a city who’s essence is the antithesis of bureaucracy.

We’ll know soon enough whether Lee truly groks the startup mentality of his constituency, just as NYC, Philadelphia, Chicago and Baltimore are doing, and can help SF get its gov 2.0 groove back.

What’s your 2012 civic commitment?

A recent Seth Godin blog post resonates with me and reflects how I’ve always approached GovFresh and will continue to do in 2012.

Until you quiet the resistance and commit to actually shipping things that matter, all the productivity tips in the world aren’t going to make a real difference. And, it turns out, once you do make the commitment, the productivity tips aren’t that needed.

You don’t need a new plan for next year. You need a commitment.

In 2012, I’m committing GovFresh to helping change the way government works. That may be too simplistic or idealistic for some, but it works for me.

More specifically, I’ll focus on helping drastically lower the cost, de-mystify the technology and build better Websites for local government agencies and officials (more on that soon). This will be an open source community effort, so please connect with me if you’re interested.

For two reasons, I’m genuinely interested in what specific civic commitment(s) you’re making in 2012:

  • I want to follow up to make sure you’re doing it.
  • I want to make sure GovFresh is helping as much as it can.

Email me (luke@govfresh) or share yours in the comments.

So, what’s your 2012 civic commitment?

Bloomberg: How cities can ‘Moneyball’ government

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has a blog post on how cities are collaborating to better leverage data analytics and maximize taxpayer return on investment. The post cites examples from major American cities and how they’ve leveraged data, especially 311 logs, to realize efficiencies.

Excerpt:

Data-driven analytics is the systematic use of information to find patterns of interest. For cities, this means looking inwards at the detailed data that city agencies continually collect – citizen complaints, licenses and permits, transactions, violations – and identifying new areas of high risk and high cost.

Cities can then respond to these findings by prioritizing the high impact areas appropriately. In the past, individual agencies have been limited in their ability to conduct large-scale analytics by mandate, scope, and organizational structure. City agencies across the country, which each already have a prescribed list of duties they must fulfill to keep the city running smoothly, often do not share data with one another, nor are they equipped analyze it. In an era of shrinking budgets, however, many cities, including New York, have made new efforts to solve this problem by creating teams existing specifically for the purpose of data investigation that can cross agency boundaries, with promising results.

My recommendation to Bloomberg and other mayors would be to open the analytics to the public so that everyone has access and can contribute solutions. Perhaps a lesser concern, keeping this type of information private gives incumbents insider information when assessing what issues voters are most concerned about.

For those unfamiliar with the “Moneyball” premise and have’t read the book or seen the movie, here’s a two-minute overview:

Full post: Expanding the Use of Data Analytics in City Governments

Government IT leaders should blog more

When I talk to city and local government technology leaders about their challenges and lessons learned, I’m often surprised they don’t openly and regularly share their experiences with the civic technology community or, in general, the citizens they serve.

Reasons include time or political constraints or that they don’t have an outlet to do so. There’s either no official platform for them to blog or they lack the resources to create one. While there are some chief technology officers and chief information officers who occasionally write for established government IT publications, there is an unfortunate lost opportunity in the lack of regularity here.

Federal agency CIOs have an official site (CIO.gov) dedicated to this. Locally, there are a handful, such as Seattle CTO Bill Schrier, who keeps a personal blog focused mostly on government technology issues.

There are a number of local IT leaders doing fantastic work that should be openly presented and discussed from a first-hand perspective. If more did this, it would not only help validate their work, potentially help increase their political clout, but also encourage others to follow suit or, even better, have a point of reference for launching similar initiatives.

Whether it’s on GovFresh, your personal blog or official government website, set a regular schedule, create a content strategy and take the initiative to share your experiences. Your colleagues and the citizens you serve will appreciate the effort, and I can assure you your influence and leadership within the government IT community will grow exponentially and immediately.

If you’re a city or municipal government IT executive interested in sharing your ideas, questions, projects or lessons learned on GovFresh, please feel free to email me at luke@govfresh.com.

Does government innovation need its own department?

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, SF city attorney and mayoral candidate Dennis Herrera said, if elected, he would create an innovation department and appoint a Chief Digital Officer to lead the city’s web and social media strategy that embraces open engagement with citizens.

While Herrera is right on target with regards to appointing a CDO, I hope he re-evaluates his idea around creating a department focused specifically on innovation.

The problem with building a designated innovation department is that innovation in itself is relative, hard to measure and a separate division has high potential to succumb to the laws of the bureaucratic silos, never extending beyond the walls of its own members.

It’s inevitable SF will have a CDO when the next mayor is sworn into office. Herrera’s comments gel with conversations I had with him and a number of other candidates prior to SFOpen, many of whom support establishing a senior-level digital role that reports directly to the mayor. Candidates Phil Ting, Joanna Rees and David Chiu all made a point of emphasizing the importance of such a position.

While a CDO position is new to SF government, it’s not a novel concept, and may very well be part of a trend in big cities as innovative leaders realize the value of strategically leveraging the web to efficiently and proactively communicate with larger, tech-savvy populations.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg did this, appointing Rachel Sterne as the city’s first CDO. Since Sterne’s appointment just 7 months ago, the NYC Digital department has released the city’s first Digital Road Map, held a Reinvent NYC.GOV hackathon, launched SMART, among other initiatives with more undoubtedly on the way.

It’s important to note, however, that Bloomberg doesn’t have a department dedicated specifically to innovation within his administration. I imagine he just expects it from everyone.

If government wants to innovate, it must emulate those that do.

Generally considered the epicenter of tech innovation, rarely will you see an innovation department in Silicon Valley. Start-up companies, most of whom have limited budgets, creatively leverage resources hoping to build the next new thing. Innovation poster child Apple consistently designs creative consumer products and, like Bloomberg, surely Steve Jobs just expected everyone to “think different.”

For them, the entire company is their innovation department. It’s in their DNA.

In his interview with the Chronicle, Herrera said, “In order to have a government that inspires people, you need two things. One is results, and No. 2 is transparency.”

I couldn’t agree more, but rather than partition innovation into one department that could become constrained by silos, government must build innovation into its cultural DNA. Leaders must create institutional opportunities for it to prosper. Establish roles with focused objectives and measurable returns, allow room for experimentation and failure and reward creative solutions with positive results. Do this daily.

Whoever is elected the next mayor of San Francisco, I hope he or she establishes an ‘SF Digital’ department with a chief digital officer to lead it.

As far as innovation is concerned, that department should be the entire SF government.

Mobile democracy: How governments can promote equality, participation and customer service

Mobile democracy

There’s a lot more to democratic government than holding elections and town hall meetings.

It’s about transparency and openness in government operations. It’s about empowering citizens with information, access to services, and opportunities for engagement. It’s about being “of the people and for the people” in every way possible.

In many ways, mobile technologies offer an ideal avenue for agencies to achieve these goals. Mobile trends suggest that increasing numbers of people are using smart phones for information and interaction — for personal, business and consumer purposes. Naturally, proponents of open government have been clamoring for agencies to get on board by providing mobile options to citizens. Whether it is a mobile version of a municipal site, apps for government services, mobile civic engagement campaigns, or a combination, making some type of mobile effort can show an agency’s commitment to connecting with citizens.

So … what can mobile government do for democracy? Here are a few ideas:

Engage more people

Not just the civic-minded folks that have time to attend public meetings or write to their elected officials — mobile tools can be used to reach people that might otherwise have very limited means of connecting with government. Rural residents, youth, handicapped or home-bound citizens, even people who are just plain busy — all can benefit from mobile access to government info and services. Mobile is everywhere, and it’s growing ever more common and affordable. By utilizing this avenue, governments can provide information AND get feedback from a broader swath of the population than by other means. This is democracy — equal opportunity — or at least a significant advancement in that direction.

Meet them where they are

Too often, governments do not make the effort (or just don’t know how) to connect with residents in meaningful ways. A government “for” the people will meet people where they already are, use the tools they are using, communicate in a way they can understand. This doesn’t mean that citizens are dumb, it just means that agencies need to cut the jargon, red tape and long lines as much as possible if they truly wish to empower the people. Mobile efforts are an ideal step in this direction. Through mobile interfaces, governments can offer no-wait access to services like bill payments, licenses and registrations, transit information, citizen reporting and beyond. Bringing these options TO the people, meeting them where they are, demonstrates a true democratic mindset and a sincere effort to connect with citizens.

Power to the people

Knowledge is power, and the democratic concept of empowering people through the opening of government data is a large part of the open government movement. It seems inevitable that agencies should aim to jump-start this process by going mobile — after all, citizens are already getting the majority of their daily information (weather, traffic, socialization, stocks, news, business, etc.) through their mobile devices. Governments hold great amounts of potentially helpful data in their hands. Opening this data by releasing it on public websites is good, but using mobile interfaces to disseminate it in a usable form is even better, and puts the power where it belongs — with the people.

Affordable democracy

Mobile democracy is affordable in the deepest sense (not just monetarily). It makes government connections and interactions more affordable for citizens in terms of effort, portability, flexibility, and convenience. Given mobile gov options, people are more likely to interact with their governments frequently, increasing trust and familiarity in ways that should be the goal of every democracy. They may visit the voting booth once a year or less, but citizens use government services — transit, taxes, sanitation, public works — every day. They also use their mobile phones every day. See the connection?

For a true democracy, a government striving for openness and accountability, getting on board with mobile technology just makes sense. Many agencies have made significant mobile efforts, with success, encouraging others to follow suit. Mobile democracy takes “open data” and makes it usable for the people … and wasn’t that the whole point of open government in the first place?

Who determines government’s ‘Best of the Web?’

Government Technology announced its list of 2011 Best of the Web Award Winners today, and I’m completely confused as to how they came to these conclusions.

According to the post, it’s judged by a “panel of experts on a wide range of categories, including site accessibility, innovation, cost-savings, ease of use and exceptional service to the public,” but nowhere does it specifically articulate what the criteria was, how the process was conducted or who the judges were. Even the press release omits this information.

As someone who follows government technology closely and has beneath-the-surface insight into the business of the industry, I know that NICUSA manages all of the top 5 state winners and is also a partner with Government Technology in other areas.

I’m not saying there’s a correlation, but the skeptic in me questions the validity of a ‘Best of the Web’ contest when there’s such a close relationship between a vendor and a media company without any transparency in the judging process. Case in point, there’s a “Innovation Nation Resources” underwritten by NICUSA in the sidebar on the same page.

NICUSA does great work creating fantastic government Websites with a business model that can be very attractive to government, especially in these financial times, however, I’d like better insight into why these were chosen over others. Contests and awards such as these have serious business implications on other government entities pursuing Web operations strategy, and if there’s not better disclosure, we’re led to believe this service is a superior option to others.

In the future, I hope Government Technology does a better job of providing insight into how they choose the best of the Web, or we will continue to be confused.

If you were choosing the ‘Best of the Government Web,’ what criteria would you use and how would you score and rank these?

Open government hackathons matter

Open government hackathons matter

The civic hackathon – a gathering (either virtual or physical) of technologists for a few days or weeks to build civic-themed software – remains one of the more durable manifestations of the open government movement.

Hardly a week passes without the announcement of a new event or contest – sometimes more than one. As I’ll explain more fully in a moment, this is a good thing.

The civic hackathon is also, increasingly, one of more analyzed facets of the open government movement.

There are more and more smart, engaged people talking about ways to make civic hackathons better – to help ensure that the software these events produce is of higher quality and has a longer lasting effect. This is also a good thing.

Some of the more enlightened analyses on methods/strategies for improving civic hackathons that have crossed my radar of late (by no means a complete list) are the following:

Also worth a read is a recent post on TechPresident by Nick Judd (always a thoughtful contributor on this topic).

In reading much of what is written on the subject of civic hackathons lately, it’s easy to take away a feeling of concern – even skepticism – about their real value.

The constant lament I hear is that civic hackathons don’t work (or don’t work well enough) because many of the apps that are developed as part of these events are not sustained long-term. Some don’t survive the weekend.

I have for some time tried to dispel the notion that this is the only measure (or even one of the most important) of a civic hackathon’s success. And in this post, I will try again.

I <3 Hackathons

I’ve got a thing for civic hackathons.

I was a competitor in the very first Apps for Democracy that took place under Vivek Kundra in Washington, DC, and I was also a competitor in the first Apps for America contest put on by the Sunlight Foundation.

Since then, I’ve been a participant in lots of other civic hackathons and coding events as either a participant, organizer and sponsor (sometimes as more than one).

I’m currently organizing a Philadelphia civic hackathon and helping to organize another in Baltimore. I am a part of not one, but two entries in the FCC’s Apps for Communities competition.

Yeah, I like hackathons.

This doesn’t always make me the most objective person in discussions about whether civic hackathons “work,” but I believe my multifaceted experience with these events has given me insight into other factors that can be used to evaluate their success.

I think civic hackathons can be bigger than the apps the generate. With some forethought and planning, these events can generate benefits that resonate well beyond the end of the award ceremony.

I think it’s a mistake to judge the success of a hackathon solely on how long the apps it produces “live” afterwards.

It’s also a mistake to try and improve hackathons by focusing exclusively on strategies for sustaining apps in the long term. This misses some of the most important benefits that can be generated by these events.

Whether we’re judging past success of civic hackathons or trying to improve future performance, it’s time to get beyond the apps.

You Get What You Plan For

I’m by no means suggesting that striving for long-term adoption of apps generated at civic hackathons is a trivial or unimportant thing. Far from it.

I’m currently working with a group in Philadelphia that developed an app as part of a recent Random Hacks of Kindness event, to identify funding and supporters to help support operation of the app long-term.

My contention here is that this is but one of the benefits to come from this civic hacking event generally, and from this software application specifically.

Not only did the efforts of my team result in an app – they resulted in a previously unavailable data set being published for others to use.  The app my team worked on helps people in Philadelphia locate farmer’s markets and food retailers that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) reimbursement through text messaging. The data behind this app is now available for anyone that wants it, either through an API that supports geo-spatial queries or as a downloadable file in a commonly used format.

The data our app needed to operate was “liberated” in the process of building the app. It is now available for anyone else to use, tweak, modify or expand.

That was our plan, and whether we are able to secure longer-term support for our app, and receive assistance in promoting it, this liberated data will live on.

I’m not the only person that has made this argument. Clay Johnson – formerly of Sunlight Labs – has emphasized repeatedly the need to build a community around app contests. This is another positive outcome that can have long term benefits that is not directly related to how many apps are actively being used six months after a civic hacking event.

I noted with some excitement the number of elected officials and political candidates that attended the recent Summer of Smart hackathons in San Francisco. This is a great way to expose public sector employees and officials to the power of civic hacking.

It’s an approach I am using in the upcoming Apps for SEPTA coding event I’m helping organize in Philadelphia, where officials from the Mayor’s office (who’ve never been to a hackathon before) will be in attendance.

I’ve argued in the past that one of the key benefits of civic hackathons is that they stretch traditional notions of public service delivery and show governments what is possible to do with their data. I can’t think of a more effective way to do this than through a civic hacking event.

There is also the very real potential for these events to generate reusable components – open source software that can be used by other developers or governments to build civic applications down the road.

Nick Judd of TechPresident said this much more eloquently than I:

“With each hackathon, some of the detritus — bits of code, training videos, documentation, the right people trading email addresses — becomes scaffolding for the attendees of later ones.”

The benefits that are achievable through civic hackathons go far beyond just the collection of apps that get developed in the course of a weekend.

But the impetus is on organizers and supporters of such events to plan for these benefits, and to nurture them after the event is concluded. You get what you plan for, and if event organizers don’t plan past the end of the weekend then the potential for a missed opportunity is real.

Civic hackathons are bigger than the apps they generate – they always have been.

Many, though, are now just realizing how far the benefits of these weekends of caffeine-fueled hacking extend.

Time for government to plug into one platform?

In a new blog post, Gartner’s Andrea Di Maio asks if it’s time to pull the plug on government Websites? Di Maio cites one Japanese city’s decision to migrate its online presence to Facebook as an example of an outside-the-box approach to government Web operations.

One comment from ‘Carolyn’ makes a strong case why the Facebook approach is short-sighted:

Believe it or not, some people trust Facebook even less than they trust government. Why make civic participation dependent on surrendering portions of your privacy to a corporation that will monetize it? I don’t want a crowdsourced opinion on when my garbage will be collected. I don’t want to have to sift through the mass of information out there on the web to find the proper permit application, or tax form for my business. And I don’t want corporate interests controlling my access to my government.

Related to this, one of my favorite quotes about Facebook comes from blogger Jason Kottke (2007):

As it happens, we already have a platform on which anyone can communicate and collaborate with anyone else, individuals and companies can develop applications which can interoperate with one another through open and freely available tools, protocols, and interfaces. It’s called the internet and it’s more compelling than AOL was in 1994 and Facebook in 2007. Eventually, someone will come along and turn Facebook inside-out, so that instead of custom applications running on a platform in a walled garden, applications run on the internet, out in the open, and people can tie their social network into it if they want, with privacy controls, access levels, and alter-egos galore.

Di Maio’s general point is that when government builds Websites they “almost inevitably fail to model access the way people do expect or need it.” But just because this has been the case to date, doesn’t mean public sector IT should transition its entire online operations to the trendiest social network.

It’s time for government to radically reconsider its online service offering to citizens with a more sustainable approach.

Centralizing government Websites into one portal is something I’ve advocated for years (see here and here). In fact, the White House is exploring this and other options around improving the .gov ecosystem (they addressed my question specifically on this subject at a White House ‘Open for Questions’ live chat here).

If government really wants to focus on IT efficiency and cost-savings, CIOs and CTOs need to construct a more focused, organic strategy that includes the following:

  • Centralize your Web ecosystem into a single CMS and uniform brand/theme
  • Develop using open source software.
  • Create an open data portal.
  • Leverage APIs.
  • Migrate as much to the cloud as possible.
  • Create topic-based content and ensure distribution via RSS, email and all social media means available.
  • Develop a mobile strategy based on accessing the data above and empowering external, entrepreneurial ventures to compete in a free market to provide the best services (i.e., build less apps in-house).

The above list is by no means comprehensive and perhaps one day I’ll have more time to elaborate. It is, however, a general, sustainable strategy for addressing pubic sector budgeting constraints given the current economic conditions. Some or all of this could be done in-house or out-sourced. If the latter, it needs to be highly extensible and portable.

I’m all for radical re-working and thinking different, but don’t let fiscal uncertainty or short-term instability drive irrational IT decision-making, especially when it comes to public services and citizen privacy.

The other Vivek is wrong about open government

Whether it was written out of naivete or for the intent of sensationalism, the other Vivek, Vivek Wadhwa, misses the mark in his Washington Post piece The death of open government.

Wadhwa makes the general argument that, because U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra announced his resignation last week, open government will “suffer a slow, inevitable death.” While I agree the federal Open Government Initiative itself has lost momentum without set dates, timelines and leadership from the top, this by no means is an indicator of the overall health of open government.

Open government will never die and here’s just a few reasons why:

Spires says so

Homeland Security CIO and Vice Chair of the Federal CIO Council Richard Spires is emphatic that senior IT executives will carry on Kundra’s legacy. He writes this in a recent CIO.gov blog post:

During the past two years, I have worked closely with Vivek Kundra, the US CIO, in both my capacity as the DHS CIO and in various leadership roles on the Federal CIO Council. Vivek joined the Obama administration with a vision of IT being a catalyst for the Federal government to be much more open, participatory, and collaborative. Vivek has been a strong force for open government. He has changed the dialogue and viewpoint of agencies of the Federal government – and we will not go back. (emphasis mine)

A number of federal CIOs/CTOs I’ve talked with are passionate about leveraging technology to make government more open and efficient. These are bright, innovative public servants with vision. See Todd Park, Peter Levin, Roger Baker and countless others as prime examples.

Look local

Open government isn’t just a federal phenomenon. It’s happening in Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, and even in Wadhwa’s own backyard, San Francisco. Open data start-up Socrata has a growing customer list that includes states like Washington, Oregon, Oklahoma and Illinois.

Beyond data, groups like CityCamp and Code for America are creating an organic and sustainable movement that involves citizens and public servants.

It’s not just data

Wadhwa cites the lack of funding around initiatives like Data.gov as a prime example of open government’s demise, but open government is more than just open data.

Open source projects and ideation experiments are flourishing at all levels of government. FCC most recently began the process of re-vamping and re-launching its entire Website after 10 years using the open source platform Drupal. Be on the look-out for other major agencies to announce the same. Open source service companies are playing a key role in fostering the open government community within the Beltway through events such as OpenGovDC and regular Drupal meet-ups at Stetson’s.

Innovation doesn’t need funding

Wadhwa writes of his call to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and the half dozen replies to help fix federal government IT issues at a fraction of proposed costs. Unfortunately, he writes, “no one has taken these entrepreneurs up on their offer.”

Innovative entrepreneurs don’t wait for the phone to ring and neither should Wadhwa or his incubator-in-waiting. Follow in the footsteps of Govpulse.us and Federal Register 2.0 and create the prototype. If it’s innovative enough and executable, someone in government will be the Gov 2.0 guinea pig.

Open advice to the other Vivek

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Step away from the keyboard and engage in the grassroots open government movement, especially the one in your own backyard. Other tech leaders are doing more than just writing and theorizing on TechCrunch and The Washington Post (see Craig Newmark, Tim O’Reilly, Pierre Omidyar, Esther Dyson, Mitch Kapor to name just a few).

This isn’t a time for pontification. Government, especially open government, needs your help and leadership. It’s time to leverage your influence (and Klout score) and be the change. Inspire Silicon Valley to focus on civic technology instead of building another photo sharing app.

Open government won’t die a slow death because one of its biggest champions leaves public service.

Open government won’t die a slow death because it’s underfunded.

Open government will die a slow death if we, as citizens inside and outside government, don’t engage, collaborate, participate and do something about it.

Will Wadhwa create his own personal Open Government Initiative as many others across the world are doing? I hope so.